Passing the Border out of Bosnia and to Safety

Happy Monday! This is a continuation of my journey out of Bosnia during the war. Read on and as always, comments and suggestions are appreciated! 🙂

Passing the Border

I cleared my throat and called to Dara, “If I have any trouble getting through, please take Samir to Belgrade with you. The birth certificate does not have any connection with me.” My mouth was dry, and it became harder and harder to pronounce words.

“I have another concern,” Dara added, “but I will ask you about it later.”

“I’m frightened,” confided Petar, lighting another cigarette. “We cannot go straight to the border.” He took a handkerchief, dried his hands, and then tucked it in his shirt. Dara bent from her seat and whispered something in his ear. Peter scratched his head and informed us, “We are going to visit our friends before we cross. My friend has a boat, and we may decide to use it to cross the Drina River after midnight. My friends are willing to help us.”

The car stopped in front of a house in a quiet village neighborhood. Petar announced, “My wife, my friends, and I are going to make a final decision. You two stay in the car.” He closed the door.

Dara looked at me. “Can we talk outside for a moment?” She stood behind the car and whispered, “Is Samir circumcised?”

Her question astonished me. Circumcision is mandated by Islam.  Muslim males are all circumcised.

“Yes. Why are you asking?” I paused. “Are they going to check it?” I froze.

“They could. I don’t know,” she answered and headed to the house.

I went back to the car, squeezed my eyes shut, and hunched my back, as though I could somehow hide from whatever might be coming. My head felt like it was coming apart, and my entire body was covered in sweat.

Samir looked at me. “Mom, are you okay? You don’t look so good.”

“I am not sure about this trip anymore. It’s too dangerous,” I whispered.

“Mom, we are almost there. In another half hour, if God will help us, we will be out of this war zone. We’ll be fine.” He patted my tense shoulder.

With a sigh I looked into my son’s bright eyes. His hope touched my heart, calming me for the moment.

“You’re right. I had a good dream a few nights ago. With God’s help everything is possible.” I paused. “Samir, let’s pray.” Our lips moved as we recited our prayers. Dear God, You conduct our entire universe. We are asking You by all of Your names to help us today to cross to the other side of the river safely. We want to go to a safe place and glorify Your name.

“It’s time to go.” Petar seemed little relaxed as he settled himself in the driver’s seat.

I squeezed Samir’s hand tightly, and he gave me a calm, confident look.

After a few minutes of driving, we slowed down, almost coming to a stop. The hundreds of cars in front of us and surrounding us created a large knot in front of the border gates. Drums played so loudly in my ears that they muted any sounds from the outside world. I tried to speak, but bitterness glued my lips shut. We stopped. I dried my palms.  Was there an accident in front of us? Suddenly I recognized the offices, the gates, and the place where I was thrown off the buses twice. Once again those agonizing memories became vivid, and I heard a voice in my mind saying, “I thought that our Republic had been cleaned out by now, but look, the Muslim is still here! How dare you come here! What do you want here?”  My body felt numb.

The color drain out of Samir’s face. I opened the car window to get air. I looked at my face in the rearview mirror, and met Petar’s eyes. He quickly put the car in gear, turned into an emergency line, and drove straight to the border gates. When he squeezed the car back into line, Dara looked surprised that no one had stopped him.

Ah, the border. To be or not to be. The car in front of us was waved on through. A border officer came up to Petar’s car. I saw his dark blue uniform and black shoes, but I was afraid to raise my head. Fear paralyzed me. What do I need to do with my eyes? I looked at the car floor. The officer would notice that my face and the photo on the card did not match. I became sick, ready to vomit. With shaking hands I handed the ID card and the birth certificate to the officer. I have to look at him. It will be lass suspicious. Our eyes met. Cold sweat glued my clothes to my body, and a hundred invisible nails pierced my flesh. I lowered my head until my chin touched my chest and closed my eyes. I tasted the bitterness in my dry mouth and heard only the music of dead drums in my ears. Time stopped. Seconds lasted forever.

Suddenly the sound of paperwork changing hands broke the silence. Petar put the car in gear, and we began to move forward. I raised my head at the same time the barrier was lifted and the car move up onto the bridge. I almost strangled Samir with a bear hug. A brightness from his eyes melted my heart, and I wiped tears of happiness from my face. My muscles began lessening the grip they had held on every part of my body for so long in my life. Dear God, this journey is Your reward. I had tried to pass the border twice before and failed. Thank you for accompanying my son and me with good people who helped us to pass the border. Please reward all of them.

I rolled down the window and thousands of suns smiled at me from the sparkling river. A stone in the river looked like Nana’s shoes and glued my gaze on. The water shaped the stone! The flowing river is touching the white hard stone sometimes pleasantly, peacefully, but other moments wildly, gustily, and agitatedly. The water of the same river is always new and different, like our days. Water is always moving, finding a way to touch the stone on the top, the sides, or even comes inside. I couldn’t move my eyes from the stone’s shape but an enjoyable sound of gurgling water touched my ears, and, I understood that the Drina River was whispering, “Good-bye, good-bye—and good luck!”

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Leaving Home for a New Country

Hope everyone is having a great week! The story this week is a continuation of my journey out of war-torn Bosnia in hopes of arriving to a safer land. Writing this feels surreal as I am sitting in my safe home in America. There were several times that I could have died, that my family could have died, that we could have been separated, that we could have never made it to America…but God wanted things a certain way and He saved us. Long enough for me to tell you my story today.

Please comment/share/like! Have a wonderful Easter Weekend!

Escape

As I entered my house, the sound of people’s voices and the clink of coffee cups on saucers were coming from the kitchen. I went immediately to my room focused on what Samir and I should pack. We would need summer clothes for now, but we had to travel light and would have to worry about winter clothes when the time came. Even so, for memory’s sake I put the wool socks Mother had knitted for me and the children into the suitcase. When I opened the family picture album, the tears poured. I placed the album in my purse next to our documents.

Around sunset I walked to Mehmed’s house. I sat in the same place where I had sat three years earlier when Husein and I had made the hard decision to separate for a time. I swallowed hard before I spoke. “It is no longer safe for Samir and me to stay in our home, and we will be leaving in the morning.”  I dried my eyes. “God knows that I did what was in my power, but for whatever reason it was not His will that I should succeed.” I cleared my throat.

Mehmed sighed and told how many times he had checked our home in the late hours of the night, worried about Samir and me. I thanked him and his wife, tearfully telling them that they had been like parents to me.

I prayed a long prayer at Habiba’s house and asked God to protect us on our trip and to reward all those people who had helped us during these last few very trying years. It was probably about midnight when the children finally fell asleep. The house was finally quiet, and it was the perfect moment to shed light on my plan.

“I have a secret to share with you,” I whispered. “Samir and I are leaving tomorrow morning, inshallah.”  My voice became shaky. “Please, keep us in your prayers. We plan to go to Belgrade.”

“It is impossible.” Habiba looked at me with her eyes wide open. “Go to Belgrade again? Why are you doing it? You couldn’t pass the border a few months ago!”

I looked at them half in fear, half with courage. “You’re right. It is risky, but I have no choice. It is too dangerous for Samir and me to remain in our home. I simply must put thoughts of what might go wrong at the border out of my mind. This time I have my friend’s I.D. card.”

“You’ll be fine this time,” said Seka with a hint of a smile. “You have no other choice. Your husband and daughter await you in the United States. God knows your courage and your love for your family.”

“I deeply appreciate your help. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.” I said softly.

Habiba supported her chin with her hand and sighed. “You helped us too. You taught me how to pray. Even though the war is all around us I feel the deepest peace I have ever felt. I had the best Ramadan of my life I have learned how important it is to build closeness to God.” She became silent for a few seconds. “I will try to join my brother and sister in Sweden.”

Seka looked through the window into the distance, and said, “We don’t have anybody to sponsor us. I don’t know how we are going to survive.”

“I’ll try to bring you to the United States once I am there.” I said, touching her hand.

With the first trace of dawn I awoke from an easy sleep. Images from my dream raced through my head, and I thank God for a good sign. In my dream I was driving a car. I slowed down as I approached the point where the street became one-way, in the opposite direction I was traveling. I looked from the sign and the street in front of me was empty. I considered my options for a moment and then carefully continued, even though I was driving against the one-way signs. The end of the one-way street connected me to traffic in both directions. As I merged into normal traffic, I woke up.

A hard rain beat against Habiba’s window. I performed the fajr prayer, (the prayer before sunrise) while Habiba made coffee.

“We don’t know when we will drink coffee together again,” I said with a touch of bitterness in my voice. “It is very hard to leave you, and I will never forget you.”  Habiba quietly cried, her face buried in her hands. Samir, who had just awakened, walked slowly through the room and opened the door. Seka and I went outside where the morning rain washed away our tears.

A white car approached the house.  My sister signaled for me to open the garage door, and the car slid slowly in.

Petar, a middle-aged gentleman, about my height, confused me with his first words. “Could we postpone our trip until next weekend? This is a very dangerous journey we are embarking on you know.”

I searched for Dervisha’s eyes, but she looked at Petar. “I don’t see any reason for changing the plan. This trip will always be dangerous.”                                                                                   “Let me see your friend’s I.D. card,” said Dara, Petar’s wife. She look at the card carefully, raised her eyes and looked at my face. “I hope we’ll be fine. They have some similarities, but if someone looks carefully, differences are noticeable.” Dara looked at the card again.

“Dervisha is right. This trip will be always dangerous,” said Petar. He moved closer to me and whispered, “I want to help you, but what happens if we have problems at the border?”

“We have problems here already. We can’t even sleep in our home.” I looked at Samir.   “If we face problems on our way I will not blame you. You have come to help Samir and myself, and I will never be able to thank you enough.”

Peter looked through the garage window. “I am building a weekend home. That lumber you have behind the garage would make a good roof. Could Zaim, Dervisha’s son, come with my friend and take it?”

“Of course,” Dervisha and I said almost in unison.

“Come Samir. Let’s get the suitcases in the trunk,” said Petar.

I tiptoed quietly to the room, dressed, made the last look and came back to the garage. Petar and Dara were already in the front seat of the car. Dervisha opened the back door, and Samir and I squeezed in.

Slowly the car moved toward the street. Our dog looked at us. The bowl of food we had set out the night before, sat untouched in front of her. I could not risk one last look at her for fear she would bark and awaken people in our house and in the neighborhood. I sat back listening to the rain pounding the car, and watched the neighborhood as it slid by. I closed my eyes and the memories of two decades of our life in this neighborhood occupied my mind. The tears showered my face and it looked like the whole neighborhood was crying with me.

As we entered Dubrave, Dervisha squeezed my hand and gave Samir a love tap on his shoulder. “Good luck my dear sister and my nephew.”

The car stopped. My sister got out and didn’t look back. She walked away from the car and I imagined walking back with her to my childhood. Now I had not only cut all ties with those I had known and loved, but also, temporarily deny even my name. My heart cried.

Dara turned her head toward me and said, “We are all losers in this terrible war. Petar and I worked hard in Germany and built the weekend house on the Adriatic seashore in Croatia, but now, as Serbs, we cannot go there.”

Suddenly the car stopped.  A Serb soldier came up to the car. Dara gave him her front seat and squeezed into the back with Samir and me. I froze in fear.

Why on earth did Petar pick up that soldier? Did he want to help him, or did he think the soldier could help us somehow? Wasn’t Petar afraid of an unexpected police or military patrol?

As we traveled through one destroyed village after another, the soldier talked about the battles he had been in. He smiled when he told us how soldiers from Serbia had come to help them to “free” those villages. “Muslims and Croats had fought together; but when we captured a several Muslims we asked the Croats to free them. The Croats told us to do whatever we want to do with them.” Petar and the soldier laughed. “Muslims certainly paid the highest price in this war,” the soldier continued. “Both of us, we Serbs and the Croats have our countries behind us. They support us like a mother would support her children. But what do the Muslims have?”

I could barely hold back my tears and anger as I listened to the soldier ramble on.

The soldier got out of the car at the edge of Brcko, and a cold, tense atmosphere took his place. Petar lit a cigarette, and the smoke so nauseated me that I had to open the window for fresh air. I recognized the house where we had stopped when I traveled in December. I felt a stabbing pain in my stomach again. My hands became ice-cold, and I closed the window.

We are so close to the border. What is waiting for us there? What if they recognize me? And if the policemen realize that I’m not the same person whose picture is on the I.D. card. Will they arrest me? What would they do with Samir? He would have to know everything on that document. Oh dear God help us.